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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/24/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 39, Whole Number 1327
Table of Contents
What's Expected of Us (story pointer by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn points out to me a rather good very story by Ted Chiang that shows up at a science site. It sort of takes an idea from Isaac Asimov and looks at its implications. It really is not so much a story as a situation. It is the kind of thing I try to do in my editorials. But for those who like my sort of musings, but done in story form, there is "What's Expected of Us" at:
[And for those who really like Ted Chiang's writing, here's a chance to read one of all all-too-infrequent works. -ecl]
One Book Worldcon (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Well, four books really. L.A.con IV will be having four discussion groups for classic science fiction works: Robert A. Heinlein's SPACE CADET, Aldous Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD, C. L. Moore's "No Woman Born", and Jules Verne's TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. People who attending may want to get started reading these now. (I just read BRAVE NEW WORLD last year, so I can concentrate on the other three.)
"No Woman Born" is available in several anthologies, including Groff Conklin's TREASURY OF SCIENCE FICTION, Damon Knight's TOMORROW X 4, Isaac Asimov's THE GREAT SF STORIES 6 (1944), and THE BEST OF C. L. MOORE.
(For those who have not heard of the "One Book" program--which is really for cities and states, not for conventions--there is more information at http://www.loc.gov/loc/cfbook/one-book.html.) [-ecl]
Belated Comments on the Academy Awards (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This week's editorial was going to be about politics. But I have been hitting that subject fairly heavily of late so I will give people a one-week reprieve. I didn't talk much about my reaction to the Academy Awards and it occurs to me that I have some things that I want to say about that. Let's see if I have a whole editorial's worth.
On the morning of the day of the Academy Awards I was asked what I thought would win the Best Picture award. For me it seemed that the likely winner was what had won most of the dramatic awards to that point, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Now people who saw my "Top Ten" of the Year list will know that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN did not even make the list. This is not to say I did not think it was a good film. But there were at least ten films that I thought were better. Actually I listed two runners-up so there were at least twelve. Knowing that I am nominating myself for a Troglodyte Award, I would say that I was happy to see CRASH win. That was on my "Top Ten" list but below THE CONSTANT GARDENER. CRASH did something that is extremely unusual for films about racism--it said something new. It said that while it may be true that underneath a surface of civility many people may be racist, the racism may also be just a layer and people may be basically decent and good even if it is covered over with a layer of racism. I believe that of the racists out there, some have those attitudes because they have picked them up from peer groups. They may have even convinced themselves they believe it. CRASH is about people who come to realize that their own negative attitudes are not what they truly believe. Every film on the subject I have seen, and there have been a lot, have made it seem that anybody who is bad is bad right down to the core. CRASH manages to be a film about human hatred that is also in its own way a feel-good film. I mentioned a few weeks ago that some films drift upward in my estimation after I give them a week or so of thought, and some drift down. CRASH started high and still is drifting up. If I were to make my "Top Ten" List today it would probably be higher on the list.
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is a good film about a relationship, but I have seen the film before. The type of film is almost a cliche, but for the fact that the two lovers in this film are the same gender. It is saying you can have the same sort of sad, bitter love story when the lovers are both males that you can if they were of different genders. I think the same sort of movie has been done with two women also. It is just that this is the first time that it was done with two males. And it was done sensitively enough that you did feel for them. I did find it odd that after BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN won three Academy Awards including Best Director that Annie Proulx, author of the story on which the film was based, wrote an enraged diatribe for the British newspaper the Guardian. She tore into the Academy and the awards ceremony for daring to give another film Best Picture. It reminds me of Barbara Streisand's rage at not being nominated for Best Director even though the film was nominated for Best Picture. Martin Scorsese was clearly disappointed that THE AVIATOR did not win Best Picture and just quietly responded that he "got the message." That is how to let people know you are disappointed if you must.
The Proulx piece can be read at http://books.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1727309,00.html
Then there is the Best Song category. There was little doubt in my mind what would win there. It was the song "It's Hard Out There for a Pimp." Even with lyrics that had to be changed for the song to be performed on national television, I still was expecting it to win. Particularly for anybody who has seen HUSTLE & FLOW, that film is engraved in their brain. The term "memorable" does not cover it. It is hard to forget. This is not that it is a good piece of music. It probably was the worst of the three. But the other two had melodies that were more complex and hence harder to remember. "Hard Out Here for a Pimp" has a chorus that is a seven-note, nine-note theme that is repeated over and over and over. It combines that with rap that barely has a melody at all. It just repeats over and over. So the listener knows exactly what is coming in the melody. When it does come is just sounds right because it is exactly what the listener was expecting. Repetitiousness done at all right is a shortcut to popularity. That is the principle that the "Top 40" music radio stations go by. When you hear the same forty songs over and over and over they start to sound right to you.
In any case, I think that what wins Academy Awards tells you more about the Academy's taste is, not what is good or bad. When I write a review or make a "Top Ten" list I am telling people about myself and how I react to film. I am writing about what is my taste. The Academy Awards are not about film either; they are about what is the Academy's taste in film. Of course, the taste of the filmmaking industry itself is an important force. It is valuable to know what the collective taste of the film industry is. It is a force worth knowing about, particularly for reviewers. The awards are a comprehensive measure of what the taste of the film industry is at a point in time. It tells you something about a group of people, not about a set of films. My "Top Ten" list is a measure of my taste. It is all about me. The Hugos are all about the aggregate tastes of the kind of people who go to Worldcons and what they like this year. That is what awards really are.
These are not necessarily the films that they themselves have made. It is what films are to their taste. There is a distinction between pleasing to oneself and profitable. Show me a McDonalds manager who really prefers hamburgers to prime rib. What they make may not be what they think is good. Actually it is not clear what their taste represents. It could be any of
These may be all different things. The word taste is vague enough that it could apply to any of them and may be different for each voter. But my statement still holds, I think. The Oscars say little about film and more about the Academy's taste at a point in time. Certainly this year, I don't think any of the films nominated for Best Picture was a studio film so I think there would have been little studio partisanship. Contrary to Ms. Proulx, I think that, more than most years, the awards honestly represented the members' taste. [-mrl]
2006 Hugo & Campbell Awards Nominations
The Hugo Nominations have been announced. One nomination here was, I think, Evelyn's personal project to get to get on the ballot. Apparently some people agreed with her message.
Best Novel (430 ballots cast)
Best Novella (243 ballots cast)
Best Novelette (207 ballots cast)
Best Short Story (278 ballots cast)
Best Related Book (197 ballots cast)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (364 ballots cast)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (261 ballots cast)
Best Professional Editor (293 ballots cast)
Best Professional Artist (230 ballots cast)
Best Semiprozine (219 ballots cast)
Best Fanzine (176 ballots cast)
Best Fan Writer (202 ballots cast)
Best Fan Artist (154 ballots cast)
The Best Interactive Video Game category, added to the nominating ballot this year by the L.A.con IV Committee, has been dropped because of a lack of interest (as per Section 3.6 of the WSFS Constitution).
That's it. [-mrl]
[Note: All the short fiction not appearing in Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, or Interzone is currently available on-line; I suspect the rest will be relatively soon. All the novels have had United States publication. For the first time since the 1970s, there is a non-broadcast performance in the dramatic categories--in fact, two of them: the Hugo ceremony and "Lucas Back in Anger". [-ecl]]
SPIDER-MAN II (letter of comment by Gerald W. Ryan):
Regarding Mark's comments on SPIDER-MAN II in the 03/17/06 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes, "I don't think there's terribly many elevated train tracks near skyscrapers in NYC anymore, though I think in the past before the old Third Avenue El was torn down, there may have been trains near tall buildings. It certainly looks that way in old photographs. I think that I remember that the Seattle monorail used to run next to some skyscrapers. As for ending with simple bumpers . . . . When I was first out of school, my new wife and I lived in Ozone Park, NY, which is in Queens on a small spur of the A-train El known as the Lefferts Boulevard line. The line was just a few stops long (it extended east from where the A train turns off to Far Rockaway). Anyway, the terminus at Lefferts Boulevard ended just like that: a station at the end, a couple of bumpers, and a precipitous drop to the street. Of course, with dead-man switches and the various safety stops on the NYC Subway system, it seems unlikely that there'd ever be a danger of one of the trains actually *making* that precipitous drop :-)" [-gwr]
YANG BAN XI: THE EIGHT MODEL WORKS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: What might have been a very enlightening documentary about Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution has some very strange artistic choices that blunt the impact. We are never quite certain of the goals of the film and what director/writer Yan Ting Yuen is trying to say, particularly with what appear to be two embedded music videos. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
To start, what were the Yang ban Xi? In 1965, China's Chairman Mao Zedong decided that the revolution he himself had initiated in China was going in the wrong direction. He and the so-called Gang of Four took a firm hand in redirecting the country. The youth was bred into fanaticism for the leader and the state, each carring Mao's "Little Red Book" of quotations. Intellectuals were sent to the countryside to learn to be farmers. The country fell into a chaotic mess. Great artworks that reminded people of the past were considered to be counter-revolutionary and were destroyed at great loss to the culture. People formerly venerated were seen as competition by the government and were forced to write self-accusations and were given punishments by people chosen for their loyalty to the state rather than any loyalty to justice. The turmoil continued for more than a decade. When it was over, Madam Mao was accused of being the force behind the Cultural Revolution. Most historians agree that while she was not very good for China, it is really Mao who deserved most of the blame. He, however, was venerated by the Communist Party and hence was inappropriate to be the scapegoat.
During this time the only art that the people were allowed to see were government-sanctioned unsubtle propaganda pieces. There were more than a dozen ballets and operas, but they are remembered as a whole as the Eight Model Works. This was the only form of drama that the people were allowed to see. The titles are like "Red Women's Detachment" and "The Taking of Tiger Mountain by Strategy". The stories are bluntly propagandistic. In one a woman held in slavery escapes and joins the Chinese Army. The noble and upstanding soldiers help her get revenge on her former masters and everything works out well for everybody good. They owe it all to the great Chairman Mao and the Communist Party.
The history, not surprisingly, is fascinating. But Yan Ting Yuen, the Hong Kong writer and director of this film makes some peculiar artistic choices. In the middle of the documentary we see a modern street scene and suddenly we are watching a rock music video with very modern dancing to rock that may or may not be inspired by the musical themes of the Yang Ban Xi. The viewer has to ask himself repeatedly "What am I seeing and why am I seeing it?" The director is experimenting with the documentary medium, but not in ways that seem fruitful. Madam Mao seems to be commenting on the Cultural Revolution and on the Yang Ban Xi plays which she says are not forgotten. That is, of course, a historical impossibility, but that is not admitted until the end credits. The quotations are fictional.
There is a lot of rock music, presumably to show the degree of change in China in the three decades since the end of the Cultural Revolution. While what we see of the plays is mostly hokey text, somehow the music is far more beautiful (at least to my ear) than the discordant contemporary rock music in the film. Of course, it may well be that I am in the minority preferring Chinese Concert Music to most modern rock. (As an aside, if one wants to hear how beautiful the combining the music of Chinese Opera with Western symphonic styles can be, find a copy of "Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai: The Butterfly Lovers" by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang. It really is one of world's greatest orchestral pieces, and the music is strongly reminiscent of the revolutionary music used in the Yan Ban Xi.)
We do get to see some excerpts from the model operas. In the political climate in which they were written, there was no such thing as going too far overboard in extolling the virtues of Communism saving the people of the world. The film, when it is on track, shows pieces of the performances and introduces an assortment of people who became famous in the productions of the Yang Ban Xi. We meet a ballet dancer, an opera singer, an actor, a scriptwriter, and so forth. They talk about their lives during this period and what happened to them after the Cultural Revolution ended.
The film is at its best when showing how a totalitarian government destroyed the lives of its intellectuals. There is the irony to how a government that says that it is devoted to the people can have such disregard for the individual. This was a story that needed to be told and which has been nearly forgotten by the world in the three decades since it ended. It should have been told without the distraction of modern rock music. I rate this film a disappointing +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. For more information on the Yang Ban Xi art form, see http://www.answers.com/yang%20ban%20xi. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last week, I said that Kim Stanley Robinson's FIFTY DEGREES BELOW was the sequel to FORTY DAYS OF RAIN. That should have been FORTY SIGNS OF RAIN.
ITERATIONS by Robert J. Sawyer (ISBN 0-88995-303-1) is a collection of some of Sawyer's short fiction. In fact, it is the only collection so far of his short fiction. Considering that he has been nominated for nine Hugos, you would think an American publisher would have been interested in doing a collection, so it could be that Sawyer felt that as Canada's most visible science fiction author, he should have this collection published in Canada. It includes his one Hugo-nominated short piece that was published before the collection came out, but also a few pieces less likely to have been seen by readers, such as one originally published in "The Globe and Mail" newspaper, and several from small press publications. Sawyer also wrote an introduction for each piece, although in most cases it is just the explanation of where it first appeared. I suspect that at some point a more comprehensive collection may be done of Sawyer's work, but until then, fans of his writing will want to seek this out. (It is available from amazon and other sellers in the United States.)
CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA: WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN by Roger L. Ransom (ISBN 0-393-05967-7) is a counterfactual. It is not an alternate history per se, because first of all, it is not a novel--there are no characters, and no plot outside of recounting the history as it might have been. And second, Ransom never gets into the world of the divergence. Alternate history novels are always written *in* that world, unless the main character is from our timeline (or some third timeline). Even Robert Sobel's classic FOR WANT OF A NAIL, while not a novel, is written *in* its timeline, down to alternate bibliographical and publication information. But Ransom keeps pulling back, saying things like, "In our world what happened was X. But what if Y?" It is of interest to history buffs, but does not have the texture to appeal to most people looking for an alternate history novel.
BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens (ISBN 0-553-21223-0) seems to be the current "classic du jour" with both an eight-hour "Masterpiece Theatre" presentation and a five-hour BBC radio adaptation in the last few months. I figured I should read the book first, before watching or listening to either of those, but after 200 pages (out of 800 pages total), I decided that Dickens was definitely paid by the word, and this was way too padded out for me. Oh, there were some fine passages, such as "Sir Leicester is generally in a complacent state, and rarely bored. When he has nothing else to do, he can always contemplate his own greatness. It is a considerable advantage to a man to have so inexhaustible a subject. After reading his letters, he leans back in his corner of the carriage and generally reviews his importance to society." [Chapter 12]
Nothing so displays the poles of wonderful reading versus repetition (to me anyway) as Dickens's first two paragraphs. The first, about London in November, is as evocative of a scene as any; the second, about the fog, is merely repetitious:
"London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street- corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest."
"Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier- brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds."
In fairness, I should say that Vladimir Nabokov thinks this repetition is a positive thing, saying in his LECTURES ON LITERATURE, "Dickens enjoys a kind of incantation, a verbal formula verbally recited with growing emphasis; an oratorical, forensic device." I disagree with this (as well as with Nabokov's use of the semi-colon). ("Forensic" seemed to be wrong also, but it is defined in my somewhat older dictionary as "suitable for debate; rhetorical".) Then again, maybe Dickens is a *man*'s author, since Nabokov starts his lecture (given at Cornell when that university was all-male, one presumes) by saying, "In our dealings with Jane Austen we had to make a certain effort in order to join the ladies in the drawing room. In the case of Dickens we remain at table with our tawny port."
In spite of Nabokov's words, I have liked other Dickens, but perhaps the fact that this not only drags on and on, but that the plot is about a lawsuit that drags on and on, make it seem far more tedious than, say, A TALE OF TWO CITIES. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Life is something to do when you can't get to sleep. -- Fran Lebowitz
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